That race is done. Greg Barton and partner won it at 3:09am, about the time that I was settling into my second leg on Colvos Passage after a fitful 2-hour nap. They covered 70 miles in the time I’d done about 12, more or less as expected. I did not finish, making the difficult call to the race boss from Kingston after pushing the Basura 42 miles from Tacoma in about 40 hours. It was an amazing 40 hours, however, one marked by brilliant sunrise and raging winds, calm water and big waves, some moments of genuine pleasure as well as real pain, physical and mental.
Without doing too much of a post-mortem, I’ve come up with a short list, three distinct lessons, if you will, given me by the Seventy48 experience. It may take a while to process it all, but this is where I’m starting from.
A. I need to remember that the boat is literally garbage. To say that it didn’t handle as well as I’d hoped is a little petty when you consider its origins. That said, while the Basura did okay on flat water, it handled the chop poorly. Stability was not a problem and it held together incredibly well overall, it just felt like I was paddling a brick when I had to go into the waves. The big flat underside of the bow would slap into the face of an oncoming wind-wave and the entire boat would slow down with a shudder before accelerating again. Like a paddleboard or a whitewater boat. The small skeg was evident in the crosswinds and tracking was an issue on a couple sections. “Unforeseen design limitations,” is how I’m thinking about it, because even though I did foresee some of them, I had just chosen not to look at them in great detail. So there’s a lesson or two in there.
B. I knew I would not be able to withstand a whole lot of headwind. I also knew that, for me to have a hope of finishing within 48 hours, I would need to maximize distance during the four ebb periods, and especially the two biggest current windows, when the tide was dropping 13 -15 feet. What ended up happening was that the times when the current was most able to boost my progress were also the times when the wind was on my nose. It wasn’t always a hard wind (although it was when it really mattered), but the way that the value of the current was negated by the wind was hard physically and mentally both, and resulted in fewer miles than I’d hoped for in those sections.
C. In addition to the boat and the weather, I have to think that another reason that I didn’t get a little more distance had to do with the paddler. While I have a couple blisters and some sore muscles today, I expect that’s normal for pretty much all the racers. I’m a little more concerned about my joint pain, sore bones and stiffness, all things I never thought about 20 or 30 years ago. The incredibly short naps that I took en route, curled up on a beach in a drysuit, were not enough to recharge and I actually nodded off while paddling on two separate occasions. I trained for the race in the gym and on the water and I think I gave myself every opportunity, fitness-wise. But time treats kings and kayakers equally, hard as that may be to accept.
I’m not going to lie, I’m disappointed that I didn’t finish. I hated making that call. But I also need to focus on why I was paddling the Basura in the first place, instead of an actual kayak. The surface of the boat, all over the deck and the sides, is covered with messages and signatures from people who have come in contact now with the issue of marine plastics in a way they never would have otherwise. There are those who have taken a pledge to re-examine their own plastic use, who have resolved to cut plastic out of their lives as much as possible. The boat itself was a message and while it was carried by me (for 42 miles, at least), it was sent by many. I find that a little inspiring.
Finally, a huge thanks to those who supported the effort, I truly appreciate each of you. The race start, when I could hear you cheering on the dock, was amazing. It is impossible to count the instances when a timely comment has been the boost I needed to get over a tough part, all the way through the construction of the boat to the race itself. I am lucky to have my friends and I know it.